Thin Ice: Unlocking the Secrets of Climate in the World’s Highest Mountains

Mark Bowen. <i>Henry Holt. $30.</i>

For indispensable reporting on the coronavirus crisis and more, subscribe to Mother Jones' newsletters.


Thin Ice should correct the notion that climatologists are just number-crunching geeks. Mark Bowen finds that the field’s cutting edge isn’t in the lab, but on the dangerously exposed faces of the world’s highest mountains, where scientists defy boredom and death to document global warming.

Thin Ice focuses on the exploits of Lonnie Thompson, the relentless visionary behind the high-altitude climatology movement, one of the most promising areas of global warming research. For 30 years, he’s led expeditions to “every blank on the map he could find,” from the Andes to Kilimanjaro, to drill for ice cores, frozen time capsules that lock in air, dust, and pollution of climates past, and offer solid (literally) evidence of human impacts on the environment. Thompson has now spent more time in the “death zone” above 20,000 feet than almost anyone alive. Even his chief rival admits that Thompson’s insistence that the real climatological action is atop glaciers, not at the poles, has earned him a place “in the ranks of our great explorers.”

Bowen tells Krakaueresque tales of Thompson’s trials (avalanches, altitude sickness, torrential storms turning solar panels into kites, valuable samples plummeting down vertical faces), alternating with a meticulous, if sometimes labored, history of the science. Thin Ice is an occasionally hair-raising picture of an overlooked and surprisingly risky quest that will appeal to science buffs and armchair adventurers alike.

Thank you!

We didn't know what to expect when we told you we needed to raise $400,000 before our fiscal year closed on June 30, and we're thrilled to report that our incredible community of readers contributed some $415,000 to help us keep charging as hard as we can during this crazy year.

You just sent an incredible message: that quality journalism doesn't have to answer to advertisers, billionaires, or hedge funds; that newsrooms can eke out an existence thanks primarily to the generosity of its readers. That's so powerful. Especially during what's been called a "media extinction event" when those looking to make a profit from the news pull back, the Mother Jones community steps in.

The months and years ahead won't be easy. Far from it. But there's no one we'd rather face the big challenges with than you, our committed and passionate readers, and our team of fearless reporters who show up every day.

Thank you!

We didn't know what to expect when we told you we needed to raise $400,000 before our fiscal year closed on June 30, and we're thrilled to report that our incredible community of readers contributed some $415,000 to help us keep charging as hard as we can during this crazy year.

You just sent an incredible message: that quality journalism doesn't have to answer to advertisers, billionaires, or hedge funds; that newsrooms can eke out an existence thanks primarily to the generosity of its readers. That's so powerful. Especially during what's been called a "media extinction event" when those looking to make a profit from the news pull back, the Mother Jones community steps in.

The months and years ahead won't be easy. Far from it. But there's no one we'd rather face the big challenges with than you, our committed and passionate readers, and our team of fearless reporters who show up every day.

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our newsletters

Subscribe and we'll send Mother Jones straight to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate

We have a new comment system! We are now using Coral, from Vox Media, for comments on all new articles. We'd love your feedback.